The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This sequel to The Iron Dragon's Daughter shares practically every wonderfully skewed fantasy AND SF tradition from the first book, but don't expect anything quite like the same story. We've still got demon cyborgs who are airships wanting to see the world burn while ostensibly under control of the war effort, mythical half-mortals who are absolutely in the minority in this Elf-rich land and highly coveted for their ability to withstand the iron, and so many richly thought-out stage pieces that make these novels truly delightful and subversive at the same time.
They're not your standard fantasy, even while so many of the tropes exist in outline, or perhaps in inverted colors.
The same thing is true even for the main plot of this book, where we have the poor orphan in his quest to become king. Sound familiar? Well, not the way this is told, because Will is a Dragon's dupe, an ignorant exile, a burgeoning and later quite skilled con-man, hero to the people, star-crossed lover of a princess, and the executor of the biggest heist in history.
And the twist was so worth it. Every step of the way, this novel was an inverted mirror to so much classic SF and classic fantasy, full of rich ideas from every corner of both fields, and written with such style and competence and rich, rich myth, that I can do nothing but bow to a master storyteller.
I've read a good number of Swanwick's novels, now, and a collection of short stories, and I can honestly say that there isn't a bad or an even mediocre one in the bunch. They're all fantastic and my trust is now boundless. :)
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